How to Support Women at Work by Sharing Your Experiences, Mentoring, and Advocating for Others

Sponsored by Sonepar USA

Shushmita Hashem. Photo courtesy of North Coast Electric, a Sonepar Company.

Shushmita Hashem. Photo courtesy of North Coast Electric, a Sonepar Company.

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Looking back on her career journey at North Coast Electric, a Sonepar company, Shushmita Hashem, Receiving Supervisor, credits her growth to her own hard work and the mentors who have lifted her up along the way.

“Mentorship has played a major role in how I see myself ‘fitting in’ within the world,” Hashem tells Fairygodboss. “Sharing stories and interpretations of how certain experiences leave impressions on you allows you to dig deeper and learn more about yourself and what it is you value.”

That said, in life, Hashem says that while she’s had different versions of mentors, she’s had “very few that fit a mirrored version of [her]: a woman, let alone a Woman of Color.” As such, “my hope is that future generations continue to emphasize the importance of seeing all types of versions of people in any type of position,” she adds.

But how can we help make this happen? Well, Hashem shares a few ways that we can uplift others — helping people rise into any role they want across all industries! 

  1. “Share your story,” Hashem encourages. “This is especially meaningful or important if you are in a mid- to high-level position or have found success in your work. To those who are just starting out in their career, your position can seem unreachable. Speak out about your wins, losses, ups, and downs. Be as relatable as possible. By sharing your story, other women start believing that they have the power to reach their goals.”

  2. “Accept and embrace individuality,” says Hashem. “Accept that not all women are the same. Yes, I know that this seems obvious. But we’ve all read enough about gender bias to know that there are certain qualities expected of women. Embrace the ways in which women in your team are individual; don’t expect them to adhere to a stereotypical idea of femininity, and don’t hold them back when they do.”

Here, we caught up with Hashem to learn more about the support she’s been given throughout her career at North Coast Electric, as well as her best advice for other women in the workplace on pulling each other up so there’s more diversity across the board. Read on for her inspirational tips and story!

To begin, please share a few more details about your career journey. How have you grown your career?

During my senior year of college, I completed an internship program with Nordstrom at one of their fulfillment locations. During this, my emphasis was on Quality and Continuous Improvement throughout the building. Then, as I was nearing the end of my internship, I was approached and offered a full-time management position as the Inbound Area Manager.

After further developing my people management skill sets and learning more about the intricacies of supply chain flow, (most of which was self-driven and promoted), I was promoted within six months to the Inbound Operations Manager (covering Returns, Claims, Receiving, and Stock). At the time, I was the youngest leader in the building and the youngest to obtain that position within that building.

This is all to say that age does not always determine your ability. However, it will shape others’ biases on whether or not you’re “fit” for the job. Don’t necessarily seek to prove them wrong, but have the confidence to go for what you want.

What career move that you made are you most proud of?

This is less so an actual career move but more so a mentality: You don’t have to follow the status quo to be viewed as or become successful. Trajectory and timelines look very different per person and experience.

For me personally, my work ethic and drive spoke for itself. I moved up the “rankings” quite fast, especially for being so young, but it was well earned. Remain true to your values and ethics, and you will reap the benefits of that confidence.

What are your top 5 tips on how other women can help advance the careers of those around them?

  1. Challenge the likeability penalty. Women face a double standard that men don’t. Men are expected to be assertive and confident, so coworkers welcome their leadership. In contrast, women are expected to be nurturing and collaborative, so when we lead, we go against expectations and often face pushback from men and women. When a woman speaks in a direct style or pushes her ideas, she is often called “aggressive” and “ambitious.” When a man does the same, he is seen as “confident” and “strong.” When you hear a woman called “bossy” or “shrill,” request a specific example of what the woman did and then ask, “Would you have the same reaction if a man did the same thing?” In many cases the answer will be no.

  2. Celebrate the accomplishments of women. Look for opportunities to celebrate women’s accomplishments and point out when women are being blamed unfairly for mistakes. Women and men respond to recognition differently. Women often credit our accomplishments to external factors such as “getting lucky” and “help from others,” while men attribute theirs to innate qualities and skills. They own their success, and we undermine ours. Conversely, when women celebrate our own accomplishments, we are often penalized for self-promotion. While women are often penalized for this, it is critical to uplift others. So, when introducing female coworkers, highlight their credentials & accomplishments. For example, you might say, “X was in charge of our most recent product launch, and it generated more sales than any other initiative this year.”

  3. Mentor and sponsor other women. Mentorship and sponsorship are key drivers of success, but unfortunately, women often miss out. Commit the time and energy to mentor other women. If you’re early in your career, don’t underestimate the value of your input; you may have just been through what a woman starting out is experiencing. If you’re more senior, go beyond offering advice and use your influence to advocate for your mentee. Sponsorship is a great way for female leaders to reach back to help women early in their careers.

  4. Amplify womens’ voices and ideas with credit. If you notice a team member who shuts down or interrupts another person speaking, intentionally or unintentionally, say something like, “X, I’m not sure you were quite finished saying your comment, and I’m sure the group would like to hear more of your thoughts.” Point out when women’s ideas are missed or “borrowed” and redirect the conversation back to what they shared and where the insight came from. Along the same lines, you can amplify other women’s work by giving them credit for their projects and accomplishments. Help them shine by pointing out what their projects did to help your team or the organization.

  5. Talk with other women about your experiences. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable and share about what you’ve faced in your career, you can give other women insights they can learn from—and help them feel less alone. While this may start in the little moments in individual conversations, it’s also important that you’re prepared in the bigger moments, especially as a lead or manager.

Do you have any books, podcasts or other forms of media that you would recommend women read to help them better support other women?

  1. The No Club (Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work) by L.Babcock, B.Peyser, L.Vesterlund, and L.Weingart. It walks you through how to change your workload, empowering women to make savvy decisions about the work they take on. The authors argue that women take on more non-promotable tasks at work, which keeps them so busy, they are unable to focus on the jobs that can help advance their careers.

  2. Why Men Win at Work by G.Whitty-Collins. The book highlights countless examples of everyday overlooked or unseen bias in the workplace. Whitty-Collins looks beyond the facts and figures on gender-bias and uncovers the invisible discrimination that continues to sabotage us in the workplace and limits our shared success.

  3. Being Boldy by C.Hunter-Arscott. It’s an actionable guide for women early in their careers that urges them to take risks and make bold moves to advance in their careers at lightning speed. Arscott pushes women to be courageous and use their voices, even if they’re not 100 percent sure of the outcome.

Lastly, how does North Coast Electric, a Sonepar company, support women?

North Coast, a Sonepar company, promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts through numerous employee resource groups (ERGs). One is Women Advocating for Today & Tomorrow (WATT). This designated platform and employee-based support group aims at “empowering & inspiring women to reach their full potential in an inclusive environment that drives professional and personal development.” This group provides leadership and development opportunities to help showcase skillsets via collaborative projects, seminars, and community events.

In addition to our WATT ERG, we have many others like ADAPT ERG-(disability), African American ERG, Asian American & Pacific Islander ERG, Connect ERG- (early career mentorship and development), Hispanos Unidos ERG, Military ERG, and Pride ERG (LGBTQIA+).

These groups, regardless of their main title, are critical for all genders to feel they have safe spaces to share ideas, collaborate, influence change, and feel heard and seen. Through the prioritization of development, the company in turn aims to attract, develop, and retain a diverse employee population.

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